Cloisonne master Zhang Tonglu's first exhibition in the city opens

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 January, 2013, 4:09am

For 54 years, Zhang Tonglu has been mastering the Byzantine art of cloisonne, using enamel and ware metals to decorate vases, plates and other objet d'art.

Zhang has top ranking among just five national-level masters of the art form.

Now he is being honoured with his first public exhibition in Hong Kong.

The 71-year-old Beijing master came to public notice with his creation Bird Cup in 1987, which makes use of the bird's feather patterns. Previously, artworks could only be made in the shape of vases and jars.

Zhang's breakthrough meant enhanced flexibility in production, allowing many different styles to be created.

He said: "In the past, the cloisonne wares were only vertically symmetrical, but mine could be made in balancing symmetrical, which means although the two sides are not of the same shape, the whole ware is a balanced one."

Zhang said he was skilled in the whole process of making cloisonne artworks - designing, model hammering, filigree nipping, soldering, enameling, heating, polishing and gilding. But he said designing was the most challenging.

His daughter Zhang Ying said clients could simply give her father an abstract idea - like the blessing "may you have favourable winds in your sails" - and he had the ability to turn it into an elaborate artifact.

Copper is often used for cloisonne because it is relatively cheap and easily molded.

But Zhang has successfully introduced silver and gold - the former being harder and the latter more pliable than copper so heating temperature has to be well controlled - into the art, and this has advanced its development.

Zhang said more art schools were needed to train craftsmen to curb counterfeiting, but he also noted that many youngsters were not keen to try because it was so difficult.

Cloisonne art was listed as a first-class national intangible cultural heritage in 2006.

It is believed to have reached China in the 13th century.

More than 20 works by Zhang are on show at the atrium in Landmark North of Sheung Shui, from 10am to 10pm every day until February 25.